The Machine is Us/ing Us by Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Kansas University, is currently the most popular video on YouTube
I enjoyed it too and had similar enthusiasm when I wrote about the original Kevin Kelly article on which it is based, in 2005
There are some important underlying ideas in there about the separation of style and content in XML and how this enables automatic data exchange which can be aggregated and programmed into the semantic web. The Michael Wesch video adaptation is a dynamic, engaging production that draws you in
But something is not quite right here, something which I missed earlier
Both the Wesch video and the original Kevin Kelly article go beyond saying that the internet is an intelligent assistant. They are saying that with more of the same, us humans teaching the machine, that the machine itself will turn into an autonomous thinking intelligence. This is more hinted at in the video but is explicit in the Kevin Kelly article:
It has already surpassed the 20-petahertz threshold for potential intelligence as calculated by Ray Kurzweil. For this reason some researchers pursuing artificial intelligence have switched their bets to the Net as the computer most likely to think first ... We will live inside this thing ...They are saying that the internet is like a human brain and that when we tag we are bringing that brain to life. I don't think that's right.
The human brain has no department full of programming cells that configure the mind. Rather, brain cells program themselves simply by being used. Likewise, our questions program the Machine to answer questions. We think we are merely wasting time when we surf mindlessly or blog an item, but each time we click a link we strengthen a node somewhere in the Web OS, thereby programming the Machine by using it
- We Are the Web
I take Rodney Brooks as a guide here, that the Ray Kurzweil singularity idea is too simple. That we need more conceptual breakthroughs about human cognition and how it works before we can make predictions such as the above. Brooks challenges the idea that exponential growth in itself will automatically produce the dramatic changes envisaged by Kurzweil.
For example, AI has been working on generic object recognition for 40 years but still can't do it.
We don't have a conceptual model of how the brain works. Theoretical, conceptual breakthroughs are required. Growth itself, even though exponential, is not sufficient.
A long time ago the brain was a hydrodynamic system. Then the brain became a steam engine. When I was a kid, the brain was a telephone switching network. Then it became a digital computer. And then the brain became a massively parallel digital computer. About two or three years ago I was giving a talk and someone got up in the audience and asked a question I'd been waiting for — he said, "but isn't the brain just like the World Wide Web?"Connection is not everything and progress requires more than more tagging. We still need deep analytical human thought and breakthroughs to work out the future.
The brain is always — has always been — modeled after our most complex technology. We weren't right when we thought it was a steam engine. I suspect we're still not right in thinking of it in purely computational terms, because my gut feeling is there's going to be another way of talking about things which will subsume computation, but which will also subsume a lot of other physical stuff that happens.
- Rodney Brooks